Headquarters. Neat name for a headphone amp. And a very neat pair of small boxes make up this very capable headphone amplifier. The review sample came with very distinctive and attractive sculpted red faceplates, although I understand that black is available in a plainer rectangular pair of boxes as an alternative for those who prefer a more subdued appearance.
One box is the power supply, the other is the amplification and control unit.
A power on/off rocker switch is located on the rear panel of the PSU, along with a standard IEC mains input socket, and a power output socket for connecting the supplied power lead to the control/amp box.
On the rear of the amp/control box is 1 pair of RCA input sockets and 1 pair of RCA output sockets. The output sockets are volume controlled so that the HQ-1 can be used as a standard pre-amplifier feeding the rest of your system.
Blue LEDs, quite bright ones, are used to denote power on, and the choice selected of headphone or pre-amp output.
Each box is 180 x 138 x 45mm and they are reassuringly heavy for their size. On the front, the control unit has the quarter inch (6.3mm) headphone output, the volume control knob, and a selector for headphone or RCA output. Two blue LEDs signify whether the headphone or RCA output is selected.
It’s a solid state amp; MOSFETs running in class A.
UK pricing is £599.
The power cable between the PSU and the control unit is quite short, so there’s not much leeway for tucking the PSU away out of sight. KingRex also recommend that the 2 boxes are placed next to each other, rather than one atop the other; the depth of the faceplate rather gets in the way of the latter option anyway.
…. are quite distinctive. The HQ-1 has quite a ‘hifi sound’, by which I mean its presentation is dynamic and bold, with solidly controlled and deep bass and extended highs but no harshness. Some of the delicacy and subtle nuances of the music pass it by a little; I have heard somewhat higher midrange resolution from my headphones than the HQ-1 presents.
Bass is good – well defined and deep. Near the start of Mahler’s 3rd symphony (Tennstedt EMI) there is an extended bass drum roll – seriously deep! – much kit, including many headphone amps I have tried, smooth this out into a near-continuous bass rumble. With the HQ-1 I could distinctly hear the individual drum beats – very impressive!
As with many hifi products, it’s better suited to some musical genres than others. Melvyn Taylor and the Slack Band were a real hoot, with marvellously alive and dynamic basslines powering his distictive vocals along.
It also did well on movie soundtracks – the vocals standing out well,with good articulation and clarity, and the ‘sound effects’ are presented in a dynamic and exciting fashion.
Bass-led music was well handled due to the excellent definition low down. Techno and dubstep were very enjoyable, the pulsing deep bass of Orbital was powerful and well-defined but did not overpower the rest of the music which powered along very enjoyably.
Great to look at and easy to use, I liked the HQ-1 a lot.
Sonically, it’s not good at everything and as a largely classical music listener it may not be my first port of call for a headphone amp. It’s a bit ‘obvious’ and lacking in subtlety to fully capture the textures in delicate chamber music, for example. I found that the mids are a little ‘matter of fact’, a little lacking in dynamic nuance and fine resolution.
But let’s face it, not everyone wants to listen to string quartets or ‘girl with guitar’ music! I don’t think that’s what this amp is about – if you want to major in midrange expressiveness then one of the many valve-based headphone amps may well be a better option for you, including the ones I have reviewed for Hifi Pig. The solid state Beresford Bushmaster DAC/headphone amp also does well in this and many other ways.
What the HQ-1 does very well is lock-on to rhythms. Very good pace and timing, and excellent bass depth and definition, allow rhythmic music to really swing along with excitement and gusto.
If you want your music to have a solidly dynamic and forceful, but not oppressive, presentation, and you just want to kick back and groove along with your tunes then the KingRex HQ-1 may well be all the headphone amp that you need.
Review system: Sony MDR-1700 headphones. McCormack UDP-1 silver disc spinner. Restek Consens pre-amp (with headphone output jack). Beresford Bushmaster DAC / headphone amp.
Author – Jerry